Common Health Problems  »  Women’s Health


Self-Care / Prevention

  1. Three doses of HPV vaccine protects against cervical cancer and genital lesions that lead to it. The vaccines are advised for girls 11 to 12 years of age, but can be given from age 9 to age 26.

  2. Have Pap tests and pelvic exams as often as your doctor advises. Ask your doctor if he or she uses a “Thin Prep Pap Test.” This gives fewer false negative results and fewer unclear readings.

  3. Use “Safer Sex” to help prevent HPV and other STIs.

  4. Don’t douche. If you do, don’t do this more than once a month.

  5. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit!

If found early, the cancer can be cured in most women. To find it early, have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams. (See Health Tests & When to Have Them.) Get tested for HPV, chlamydia, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as advised by your doctor.

Treatment depends on what is found. The precancerous form of cervical cancer is called dysplasia. Mild cases of this can be monitored with more frequent Pap tests. Medical treatment can also be given. This includes laser therapy and removing part of the cervix. Surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy are needed for cervical cancer.

If the cancer has not spread and a woman wants to become pregnant in the future, just part of the cervix is removed. If a woman does not want a future pregnancy, a hysterectomy may be chosen.


National Cancer Institute

800.4.CANCER (422.6237)

The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus. Cancer of the cervix is found most often in women over the age of 30. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) It is rare in women under age 20, but is also common in women in their 20s.

Signs & Symptoms

Screening tests, such as Pap tests are important, because signs and symptoms are not often present in the early stages of the disease. Late stage symptoms include:

Late Stage Symptoms

  1. Vaginal bleeding or spotting of blood between menstrual periods.

  2. Vaginal bleeding after sex, douching, or a pelvic exam.

  3. Vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you.

  4. Increased vaginal discharge.

  5. Pain in the pelvic area.

  6. Pain during sex.


  1. The main risk factor is being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). This is passed from one person to another during sex. Only some, not all women who are infected with HPV, get cervical cancer. There are many types of HPV. Certain high risk types of HPV cause most cervical cancers. Other types increase the risk for genital warts or other conditions that are not cancer. Any woman who has ever had sex is at risk for getting HPV. The risk increases for persons who:

  2. -Started having sex at an early age.

  3. -Had or have sex with multiple partners. The more partners, the greater the risk.

  4. -Had or have sex with a partner who: Has HPV; began having sex at a young age; and/or has or had many sexual partners.

  5. Not having routine Pap tests. These tests screen for cells on the surface of the cervix that are abnormal and that can turn into cancer cells. It can take several years for this to occur, but could happen in a short period of time, too. These changing cells can be treated so they don’t turn into cancer.

  6. Having a current or past sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia. This increases the chance of getting HPV.

  7. Smoking.

  8. Taking drugs or having HIV/AIDS or other condition that lowers the immune system.

  9. Being the daughter of a mother who took a drug known as DES during pregnancy. This drug was used from about 1940 to 1970, mostly to prevent miscarriages.

Questions to Ask

Are late stage symptoms of cervical cancer listed above present?

Have you not had a Pap test and pelvic exam for 3 or more years?

National Cervical Cancer Coalition